Food safety on the table at world conference

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ADDIS ABABA, Feb 12, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Food contaminated with bacteria,
viruses, parasites and toxic chemicals is a mounting health hazard and a
crippling economic burden, a global conference on food safety has been told.

The two-day forum is bringing together health bosses and experts from 125
countries to combat the peril of unsafe food, a hazard that kills more than
400,000 people each year, according to UN estimates.

“Today, the world produces enough food for everyone,” Jose Graziano Da
Silva, director general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO),
said at the opening of the conference on Monday.

But much of this food “is not safe”, he added.

“We estimate that each year, nearly one person in 10 falls sick after
eating contaminated food,” said Kazuaki Miyagishima, who heads the World
Health Organization (WHO) food security department.

Of the 600 million people who fall sick from unsafe food, around 420,000
die, according to the UN’s estimate.

Children under five suffer most, comprising 40 percent of those who fall
ill.

According to the WHO, contaminated food is to blame more than 200 diseases,
ranging from diarrhoea to cancers — and the economic impact is huge but
often overlooked.

The FAO estimates the cost for low and middle-income countries to be in the
range of $95 billion (83.5 billion euros) per year.

The conference, attended by ministers and deputy ministers from some 20
countries, is expected to issue a call for better coordination and support.

“Africa has a major interest in this,” said Miyagishima, adding the
continent, followed by Southeast Asia, is the worst affected by contaminated
food.

– All-round approach –

Miyagishima said a multi-pronged approach was needed.

This includes stronger laws, better training and equipment and beefing up
health systems to detect potential risks and swap information countries, he
said.

The risks are very diverse, ranging from bacteria such as salmonella or
listeria, to chemicals such as cancer-causing heavy metals and organic
pollutants.

For countries facing drought or famine, the challenge is preventing the
population from using water contaminated by cholera, or eating food
unsuitable for consumption.

For countries trying to better respect international norms and export
certain food products, Miyagishima warned of a “situation where exported food
is of a better quality than products destined for the local market”.

In Europe, Miyagishima said there was a need for faster exchange of
information between health authorities, recalling the 2017 contamination of
eggs in the Netherlands, which were distributed to numerous countries.

The conference comes at a time of swelling controversy over the use of
chemical products in agriculture, including the controversial weed-killer
Roundup.

“Regulatory decisions, international or national, should be based on sound
science,” he said.

The UN in December announced the creation of a World Food Safety Day on
June 7.

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